Those were the days when Ma and Pa went out to Dance at a Ball….,
Tripping the Light Fantastic as the Old time Orchestra played….. (Edith Temple/Meyer Lutz – Pas de Quatre)
The Promenade Concert Orchestra gave the first concert of its thirteenth season – its fiftieth in all – at the Platform in the gloaming of a quiet, grey late November afternoon. Conductor Howard Rogerson had put together a typically diverse and enjoyable programme, almost all sourced from his own vast music collection. Those Were the Days was a tribute to the eponymous BBC radio programme (1943–1976) and the over one thousand programmes directed by its founding and guiding conductor Harry Davidson, (1892–1967). The format of the concert accordingly sought to emulate the mix of music played in the original radio series with waltzes and other dances, (a speciality of Davidson), marches, songs and medleys following in quick succession. This provided an extremely tuneful and often invigorating experience for the appreciative audience, amongst whom were Councillor David Whitaker, the Mayor of Lancaster, and David Corbett, who has written the definitive work on Harry Davidson and his career.
The concert consisted of no less than 23 accomplished numbers by some 25 different composers/arrangers and it will not be possible to mention them all here. Most of these pieces, some very short but all written in very accessible styles, and including some classical as well as light and popular music of its day, had been composed in the half century before the radio programme first went on air. The afternoon opened appropriately enough with an attractive nautical overture: Plymouth Hoe by John Ansell and it would be interesting to compare the style of this work with William Walton’s only slightly later Portsmouth Point. After further short orchestral pieces, including Pas de Quatre, Suzanne de Lozey performed a virtuoso piccolo solo in Mark Anthony Brewer’s polka The Deep Blue Sea. Guest soloist Rowena Thornton, making a welcome return visit to Morecambe having valiantly fought off the effects of a cold on her fine soprano voice, sang the first four of her seven songs. These included a rare opportunity to hear Haydn Wood’s A Rose still blooms in Picardy – a stylish but much less successful WWII follow up to his WWI hit – as well as the ever popular Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol by Anton Baucker and Carl Zeller. Franz von Blon’s Sizilietta Waltz and Amers’ The Wee Mcgreegor were other contrasting orchestral highlights while the first half ended with the third performance of orchestra violist Julian Davies’ evocative tango, Lucia’s Dance, with its opening clarinet solo played by Janet Barlow. This work, a PCO commission, is shortly to be published.
The second half, which began with Blaze of Glory a march/military two-step by Abe Holzmann, was to include two difficult but entertaining dance sequences which kept the orchestra on its toes. The first was Army and Navy (a Lancers sequence) by Ernest Allan, which, in echoes of Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs and of Ernest Tomlinson’s North Country Dances, incorporated may popular tunes. The second was Mikado (a Quadrilles sequence) in to which Bucalossi had incorporated most of Sullivan’s splendid tunes from the operetta – to pianist Brian Heaton’s obvious delight. In between this fun there was the opportunity to reflect with Haydn Wood’s A Wonderful World of Romance with its mellow violin solo, elegantly performed by orchestra leader Julian Cann, and concluding characterful soprano solos from Rowena Thornton. These included O mio Babbino Caro by Puccini and an arrangement by Howard Rogerson of The Pipes of Pan from Monkton and Talbot’s The Arcadians. The concert ended with the march The Tiger’s Tail by Thurban. This was a fresh and most enjoyable concert posing a most challenging variety of styles and rhythms for the orchestral players. The various instrumental sections and all the soloists rose admirably to the occasion under the conductor’s knowledgeable tutelage. A splendid start to the new season!